“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first hour sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
As with all kinds of work, taking the time to prepare the best course of action/plan of attack before jumping into the actual work often makes it faster and easier to finish. The same goes if you’re boosting your site’s ranking through search engine marketing (SEM). Normally, you’ll need an SEM plan that has undergone several iterations to come up with a successful campaign.
So, as Abe said, let’s take this time to “sharpen our wits” before we get down on chopping this tree.
SEM and Its Importance in Modern Marketing
SEO may be all the hype these days, but let’s admit, it takes a while before the results kick in, and not everyone has the luxury of time. That’s where SEM comes in and saves the day.
Paid advertising basically means paying (or in marketer’s terms, “bidding”) for the top space in a Google results page on a certain keyword.
The results on the topmost of the page (historically on the right sidebar) are what we call paid ads or PPC ads. Business/individuals pay for the position to be the top, and if the bid is high enough, then their ads will be displayed at the very top. Remember, you only pay when someone clicks on your ad.
In the example above, you’ll see a PPC ad about, well, PPC ads.
Now, just because your bid is high enough, doesn’t mean you’ll get the top spot. Or you may get the top spot, but not enough people click on your ads because you’re targeting the wrong market. That’s why having a well-thought-out SEM plan is key to making paid advertising work for you.
Steps to Developing an Effective SEM Plan
1. Define your goals.
What do you want people to do once they clicked on your PPC ad?
Before you get into the technicalities of paid advertising, it’s crucial to nail why you want to spend money on SEM in the first place. Do you want users to download your latest app? Sign up for your newsletter? Or maybe subscribe to your podcast?
Whatever your goal is, be sure it is clear for the whole team so that you can set a strategy that aligns all your search engine marketing efforts.
2. Assess the competition.
Before you get down on the drawing board, you need to look at what the current paid ads landscape is like for your niche. How’s the competition? Do your competitors employ aggressive PPC campaigns? Which conversion metrics do they target?
Once you have an idea of what you’re up against, you can plan a bid strategy that makes it easier for you to accomplish your goals.
3. Pick your PPC platform.
Just like social media, different PPC platforms also have different strengths and weaknesses depending on what you need. Google has the highest search volume among the bunch, but bidding also comes with thicker competition. Bing, on the other hand, isn’t as expensive, but you get less search volume than Google.
That said, your choice of platform is largely dependent on your unique needs as a business as well as your audience. For best results, run exploratory tests to see which platforms produce the best quality traffic.
4. Research keywords.
The keywords selection is the make-or-break portion of running a paid advertising campaign, so effective research for the right keywords to use is a must.
Depending on your goals, you could choose to focus on fewer, high-volume, variable quality keywords or spread your coverage across a large number of low-volume, highly-specific keywords. Whatever the case, a good mix of short and long-tail keywords will require testing and optimization over time.
5. Set a budget.
Unlike SEO, which is basically free, search engine marketing has a steep (and often costly) learning curve in identifying your optimal starting budget.
It’s a tricky phase for many businesses, which could result in dollars wasted without moving the needle closer to your target if done wrong. This is why many businesses just prefer to consult with a PPC advertising agency, where paid search analysts do the legwork of constantly looking for ways to improve your results, whether it’s decreasing your cost per acquisition (CPA) or netting more visibility for your brand.
6. Write the copy.
Compelling ad copy ensures that your users actually click on your paid advertisement. This is one of the elements that needs to be continuously tested and optimized to improve click rates further, thus increasing the people that visit your landing page (which we’ll talk about in a bit.)
Now, SEM and SEO may employ different tactics, but they’re two sides of the same coin, so they work best together. In this case, the team can run PPC campaigns and use the clickthrough data to determine copy variations that work better with your audience.
7. Build a landing page.
When all is said and done, the user finally arrives at…wait, your home page?
Too many businesses set up PPC campaigns that get in a high enough position to be seen and ultimately, make users click, only to bring them to a page that doesn’t have a clear call-to-action. When that happens, all the traffic you’re gaining is just a vanity metric.
That said, you also have to make your landing page relevant to your ad copy. In the example above, you can’t have people clicking on a PPC ad about PPC ads only to bring them to a page about SEO. Your bounce rates will go through the roof, and that’s not a good thing.
Bring value to your users and set up your landing pages so that there’s as little friction as possible for when you want users to sign up for your newsletter or download your eBook.
8. Keep testing and iterating
No effective PPC campaign can ever be put on autopilot. It’s why Jeff Sauer of Jeffalytics believes that a robust strategy for SEM can perform a lot better than any automated algorithm of PPC management software (programmatic advertising).
The industry is always shifting, and you can always find ways to maximize your budget or optimize your ad copy to increase your clickthrough rate. Just remember to test one feature at a time and always monitor your performance metrics.
Crafting an SEM plan that works for your brand may take a while, but the initial time spent on the drawing board could potentially save you weeks (or months) of stumbling in the dark and wasting resources.
SEM campaigns may be iterative, but when you have a plan, the rest will fall into place.